South Bay - Balsam Lake, Trent Severn Waterway

Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Dave Greene
Trip Date : 
Additional Route Information
180 km
6 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
0 m
Longest Portage: 
0 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Not applicable
Not applicable
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Trent Severn waterway. Georgian Bay - Balsam Lake (Trent Severn Summit)

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Any excuse to eat lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches is just fine by us. By recently returning to our motherland of Toronto after two years of traveling and working we found ourselves perplexed and alarmed at the pace of life in the GTA. We had been in the bush in both hemispheres adventuring, exploring and living in one very small blue tent.
We felt pressure from ourselves, family and friends to “settle down” and get this urbanite life off the ground. After sending out 1,439 resumes, speaking with countless answering machines and looking at nothing but dirty basement apartments our wanderlust was getting the better of us.
So what happens when you take two stir crazy 25 year olds, a forgotten 17 foot Rossiter row boat and the Trent Severn waterway? For starters, two great tans, but essentially the makings of a fabulous, uniquely Ontario summer adventure.
The plan was hatched; put in at South Bay near Honey Harbour, negotiate Georgian Bay and row ourselves back to the family cottage on Balsam Lake, hopefully in a week. We’d never taken the Rossiter out for longer than a couple hours, never been through the locks and had heard nothing but horror stories about Lake Simcoe. But we did have a harmonica, mandolin and a ½ kilo of cheese.
Boat loaded, maps ready and mom shaking her head at us from the dock, utterly bemused, we pushed off into some of the six hottest days of the entire summer. Our first day was spent revelling in the fact that we were on trip at last. We poked through the channels, slathered on sunblock and started getting used to all the funny looks people gave us. It’s not every day to see two bums in a row boat with a whole bunch of stuff navigating off old nautical charts and trolling for fish.
Our first campsite was set peacefully on an anonymous island on top of a baking hot rock. We set up our tent to the sound of a cow moose feeding in the swamp behind us. The heat had gotten to us and we dragged our sorry selves around making dinner, hiding from the heat of the stove and instantly sweating the minute we tried eating our noodles. We waited an hour for our supper to cool down, but when the air temperature and the giant rock under your pot are at least 40° C, nothing ever cools down, including us. Resigning ourselves to sweat and stick to each other in the tent, we fell asleep thankful we’d taken one last dip before calling it a night. We awoke hours later to what would be the sound of every night to come. We thought it was a helicopter bearing down on us, as it turned out it was the roar of a trillion mosquitoes plotting a way to get through our thin layer of mesh and carry us away.
The mosquitoes still hadn’t given up when the alarm went off at 6. Our intentions of having a nice breakfast and reorganizing the boat were dashed as we ran around in a fury, hastily packing everything up and throwing ourselves into the boat and day two. The mission for the day was to get through all the little rocky sunken islands standing between us and safety from Georgian Bay.
Getting an early start hopefully would guarantee a few hours before too much wind picked up. The bay was eerily calm as we kept a weather eye on the large thunderclouds building behind us. Nothing more than a few drops of rain hit us and after a couple hours were winding our way through the marshy flats that would take us to Port Severn, our first lock! We locked through, the only boat in such a large bathtub and pulled off the water for lunch, fresh water and an afternoon siesta to escape the heat. Two hours later, we felt rejuvenated and only sort of crispy from the sun. Our new technique to staying cool was jumping into the water with all of our clothes on and climb into the boat dripping wet. This would keep us cool for about 45 minutes. Sweat, swim, row, repeat.
We made great progress getting more and more funny looks from motor boats as they careened by us. Our second day ended when bone-weary, with aching hands and shoulders we made it upstream of the Marine Railway lock. The lockmasters there were quite impressed with us and we were pretty proud too! We camped at the lock enjoying a breeze and some great fishing.
Days three and four gave us no break in the weather and the sun continued to bake us. We were ripping through our sun block a pace almost as alarming as our peanut butter and jelly supplies. Being veteran canoe trippers, always striving for self -sufficient, remote trips we struggled to adjust to a trip with so much human activity on it. It’s not nearly as quiet or dangerous as northern Ontario. However, trees don’t offer you ice cold beer at 2 in the afternoon and squirrels certainly don’t scoop you ice cream.
By day five, we were starting to feel in mighty fine shape, rowing stronger and longer each time it was one of our turns at the oars. Our plan from the beginning was to have one person row at a time, allowing the other to rest and rehydrate. We could continuously move and work hard knowing a break was only an hour or two away. This was a great time to be feeling strong as today was the crossing of Lake Simcoe, our largest and scariest hurdle of the entire trip.
Lake Couchichang, to the north of Simcoe had given us a run for our money the day before turning into the washing machine it is known to behave as. Halfway down we were driven off by serious winds, rain and lightning seeking refuge until the storm abated. The waves stuck around long after the storm was gone and we half surfed, half hung on for dear life as we made our way to Orrillia. The rossiter performed beautifully, being much stouter and deeper than a canoe. There’s no doubt if we were in our old Gruman we would have been swimming. Thankful to be off the water for the day we set up shop, slightly illegally at a public park for an extra early start to have as much calm water on Simcoe as possible.
Our early start never came. We awoke to an insane rain storm in the middle of the night that didn’t let up once until 9 in the morning. We thought for sure the wind would come up within an hour or two of us shoving off and we would be forced to do Simcoe in two days. Oddly enough, the weather cooperated more than we could have imagined, with hardly a breeze in the sky or a wave on the lake. We still hugged the shore line as much as we needed to feel comfortable and were endlessly on the watch for weather and waves. The overcast sky gave our leathery skin a break from the sun and we rowed as hard as we could, non-stop for 6 straight hours, finally reaching the canals once again by mid afternoon. We couldn’t believe our good fortune and were endlessly thankful to the weather gods for giving us a hand.
The remainder of our trip was comparably easy to the open water crossings we had dealt with. Unfortunately we did find ourselves cursing huge catamarans and idiot yachters that seemed to get a kick out of us. The canals were so narrow that several times we were forced into the overhanging tree branches to avoid being dumped or run over. The closer we got to our destination less and less people knew where Honey Harbour was. We had predicted this as on our first few days hardly anyone knew of Balsam Lake, our ending point.
We arrived on our dock, happy, exhilarated and pleased with ourselves. Our family was waiting with outstretched arms and cold beer, relieved that we were alive and well. For our first long-distance row boat adventure we had done pretty well; the right amount of food, the boat loaded perfectly, and more maps, flares and matches than we knew what to do with. We used everything at least once and didn’t want for anything, the best possible outcome of a trip. Although, some ice cubes could have gone a long way.

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:250,000): 
We used Nautical maps for Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe. The rest was common sense.<br />
Other Maps: 
This is a well marked route which is accessible by motorized boat. Previous experience reading nautical charts, and knowing your markers is an asset.<br />